MINNEAPOLIS — The wait is almost over.
The blockbuster trade that will send Kevin Love to team up with LeBron James in Cleveland will be completed on Saturday, making the Cavaliers an instant favorite in the Eastern Conference and turning Andrew Wiggins into something of an anomaly.
When Wiggins is moved from the Cavs to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the deal, he will become just the second No. 1 overall draft pick to be traded without playing a game for the team that drafted him since the ABA and NBA merged in 1976.
The only other time it happened was in 1993 when the Orlando Magic traded Chris Webber to the Golden State Warriors for a package headlined by Penny Hardaway.
The Cavaliers will also get Anthony Bennett, the 2013 No. 1 pick, from Cleveland and veteran forward Thaddeus Young from Philadelphia in the three-team deal. The Sixers will get Miami’s 2015 first-round pick from the Cavaliers and guard Alexey Shved and forward Luc Mbah a Moute from the Timberwolves in the trade, which cannot be announced until Saturday due to a seldom-used NBA rule that prevents draft picks from being traded until 30 days after they sign their rookie contracts.
The Webber-Hardaway trade occurred on draft night, allowing both players and both teams involved to leave the venue that night with a clear picture of their respective futures.
Wiggins, on the other hand, has endured a much longer, more awkward process. He suited up for the Cavaliers at the Las Vegas summer league even as the rumors of his trade started to swirl. As the summer dragged on, the 19-year-old Canadian who spent one year at the University of Kansas even wore the Cleveland colors in a rookie photo shoot at the start of August.
Through it all, he side-stepped questions about where he was headed and steadfastly maintained the rumors didn’t bother him.
“Anywhere, any team,” he said earlier this month when asked about it at a promotional appearance. “I can play anywhere.”
But Jayhawks coach Bill Self said that he thinks Wiggins has used the Cavaliers’ decision to trade him as fuel.
“I think he’s handled everything great. He’s excited,” Self said at a basketball camp earlier this month. “I think the whole thing that’s been blown out of proportion a bit is that he’s been in limbo. He’s known since the summer that he’d be traded. It’s OK. In some ways he’s looking forward to going to Minnesota.”
The vast majority of top picks since the merger either have never been traded or were shipped out after spending at least four seasons with the team that drafted them.
Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 who is headed from Cleveland to Minnesota with Wiggins, is unique in his own right in getting traded after just one year with the team that drafted him. He joins Pervis Ellison, who was traded from Sacramento to Washington after his rookie season in 1990, and Webber, who was traded from Golden State to Washington after one year, as the only No. 1s to be dealt that quickly.
That speaks to how highly the Cavaliers, and James in particular, think of Love. His versatility, shot-making, outlet passing and rebounding prowess will be a perfect fit for the James-led Cavaliers, just as it was when the two teamed up at the London Olympics with Team USA.
Love spent his first six seasons in Minnesota and has yet to make the playoffs. That lack of success caused him to inform management this summer that he intended to opt out of his contract next July and sign with a contender, so the Wolves started to entertain offers.
The Cavaliers jumped into the mix right after James decided to return home and shot to the top of the list of suitors when they decided to make Wiggins, a super-athletic, 6-foot-8 forward, available.
Now that he is coming to Minnesota with the added motivation of being an outlier is just icing on the cake in the Wolves’ eyes.
They see two young players with the talent that made them No. 1 picks and the motivation to show the Cavaliers they shouldn’t have given up on them this quickly, even if they were getting a three-time All-Star and one of the best offensive players in return.
“When all this trade stuff started, I talked to Andrew and Andrew told me, ‘I hope I get traded,’” Self said. “And I’m like, ‘No you don’t.’ And he said, “Coach, I do. It’s better for me, knowing my personality and what I need to do, to go somewhere where I’m forced to be something as opposed to going in there where they’re going to be patient with me and I’m going to be a piece.”
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